Category Archives: Steel Chronicles


I have read so many X-rays over the past two years and three months of people afflicted with COVID. As a radiologist, I bear witness to the onset of COVID from the first variant to the most current. I’ve seen chests fill up with fluid and inflammation to the point of destroying the lungs. I have seen the Delta variant show up with florid, rapid onset pneumonia. I’ve seen the Omicron variants have not shown as much pneumonia and frankly, the past three months, I have been relieved as I interpreted Chest X-rays that did not show pneumonia at the outset.

My daughter has had some health challenges since November. These challenges were from new treatments for her epilepsy including brain surgery in March. Because of this, the three of us did not get booster shots. So it was with trepidation I went ahead with a trip to Disney World for our entire family: wife, daughter, son, daughter-in-law, and three grandchildren. This was a trip almost a year in planning. I read that in the past three weeks, COVID cases were on the increase along the east coast with the newest variant up almost 31% in Florida. Should I cancel our trip?


My son’s family had COVID around the first of the year. Both my son and daughter-in-law had booster vaccinations. But, because of my daughter’s surgery and trying to work out scheduled visits four hours away in Houston, the three of us never got around to it. After much thought, we went anyway. And we wore our masks. BUT, most of the people in Disney World were not wearing their masks. I should have been more careful.

Two days after arriving in Disney World with my son (we drove down 15 hours to avoid the cost of renting a van and three car seats) I started feeling weird is the only way to describe it. Now, I’m a physician and I’ve taken care of hundreds of patients in the past two years or so who had COVID and never had problems. By Tuesday night, I was having nasal congestion and it just didn’t feel like a regular cold.

Wednesday, I was a walking zombie is the only way to describe how I felt. I had no appetite. My taste and smell were fine. Wednesday night I began to choke on nasal secretions and I knew Thursday morning I had COVID. I had tested myself Wednesday and it was negative. Thursday morning, the little red line showed up at 3 minutes! You’re supposed to wait until 15 minutes to see a positive test.

I went to a local stand alone ER and they jumped all over me with intravenous steroids, monoclonal treatment, I.V. fluid, and a breathing treatment and put me on a Z Pack, steroid dose pack and an inhaler! I must admit about thirty minutes after the steroid and monoclonal infusion, I was feeling pretty spiffy.

Back to the room now in quarantine while the rest of my family enjoyed Disney World. I was pretty bummed out. Especially when my wife and daughter got sick Friday and tested positive for COVID. It was especially galling when my wife called me from the same ER because the doctor, a different one from the doctor I saw, was miffed at me that I had gotten their last dose of monoclonal infusion! I said I wasn’t the one who made the decision how to treat me. In fact, he told my wife and daughter to take over the counter medication. After talking to one of Casey’s health care providers, we opted for a conservative approach.

Fortunately, our symptoms were moderate. But the real problem arose. How were we to get home? My son and I were supposed to drop everyone off at the airport Saturday morning to fly home and he and I would drive the 15 hours home. Now, I had to buy him a ticket. Problem was, he had driven from Abilene to my house in Shreveport and this is where his car was located. He did this to deliver two car seats to take in my van. Sherry and my daughter had driven three hours to Dallas DFW Airport and parked in the long term parking to meet my daughter-in-law and three grandchildren driving three house from Abilene so they could all fly out together to Orlando.

Now how would we get the cars straightened out? It was obvious three of us would be driving back. We couldn’t fly with active COVID! So we set out Friday afternoon driving for home and left my son, daughter-in-law, and three grandchildren at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. They flew home safely Saturday and my sister-in-law was kind enough to drive my son’s car to Dallas to pass off to them and pick up my wife’s car and drive it home.

Bottom line: I don’t care what you think about masks. I don’t care what you think about vaccinations. All I know is I got COVID at Disney World and it ruined our long planned trip for my grandchildren’s first visit to Disney World. Did you read that? I GOT COVID AT DISNEY WORLD!! IT WAS NOT THE HAPPIEST PLACE ON EARTH!!

If you are going this summer, be careful! Don’t hesitate to get boosted. Don’t hesitate to wear a mask in large crowds. COVID is surging again and granted, it is the more contagious, but less deadly newest variant. But, if you get it, it will ruin you carefully planned trip. And, it may ruin your life!

Thank God, we only have mild symptoms so far. I am hoping and praying it stays that way. So BE CAREFUL! Don’t take this for granted. A little precaution can save your day. And, maybe your life!

Now for the humor. I told someone I had Disney COVID so every time I coughed I sounded like Sneezy (or Wheezy, or Croupy, or Grumpy). And I had a touch of gastrointestinal effects and lets just say driving for 9 hours on Saturday we had to stop way too often for me, Whiny the Poop! Sorry, too much information!

If you go, seriously, let me recommend:

Wear your mask in large crowds.
Wear your mask in any attraction line.
Wear your mask on all attractions.
Use the hand sanitizer every time you get on and off an attraction.
Wash your hands over and over in the bathrooms.
And, I recommend picking up a home COVID test the minute you get there or bring your own because the tests will be in short supply as this new surge peaks in Florida!

What is a “Shadow Merchant”?

A Jack Merchant Medical Mystery

The emergency room doctor had become a thorn in my side. He was demanding. He was demeaning. He was defensive. It was obvious to me he had suffered a painful experience with radiologists in his past practice. Pleasing the man was almost impossible. Every interpretation I gave him was insufficient. I was taking too long to report his ER cases. I was too vague in my reports. I was wrong with my diagnoses. You name it, he never appreciated my hard work.

As a radiologist, I was used to this kind of treatment. I’ve been in the business for almost 40 years and recall how poorly we were regarded at the beginning of my practice. Times have changed and radiologists are integral partners in patient diagnosis and treatment and we are accepted as equals by our colleagues in other specialities.

But that was not the case years ago with this emergency room physician. He sat in my office while I was going over the findings of a CAT scan of a patient’s abdomen and pelvis. He told me he was leaving our hospital for another practice. I was ecstatic but didn’t show it. In a rare moment of honesty he looked at me and said, “You know, I practiced in a military hospital before I came here. The radiologist there was not that proficient. That’s not a commentary on the military. Just a commentary on the person. Your group has done a good job while I’ve been here and I wanted to thank you before I left.”
I was stunned and he shook my hand. He stood up and before he walked out the door he said, “You’re the best of the shadow merchants in your group.”
“Shadow merchants?” I asked.
“Yeah. That’s what we call radiologists in the military. Shadow merchants. You live in the shadows and make a living by interpreting shadows on your films. Shadow merchants.” He walked out.

There is a suggestion for authors, write what you know.

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Getting Published, Marketing


When the book is released, this is when the real work begins.

Book Signing First Orlando Baptist Church

Social Media

Oh, my, but this is the hardest part for me. I’m not a spring chicken. I don’t follow Facebook or Meta or whatever it is called with regularity. I don’t tweet. I have an instagram account but I mainly look for recipes. I don’t Tik Tok or Snapchat or chit chat, etc.

But, if you want to sell books you’ve got to become an expert in all of these social media tools. In fact, you might want to consider paying someone to help you learn how to handle social media and I would once again point you to Joanna Penn’s site ““.


This is absolutely essential. And, there are many reliable services that will help you build a website. The decision point is whether to have just a blog from which you can link your books to Kindle, Nook, and Apple Books, for instance, OR an e-commerce site which you will have to handle. That means selling and shipping your books yourself. Either requires a LOT of work on a DAILY basis and a big commitment to fulfilling your promises.

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Getting Published: Independent


Now, here is where I am currently with my writing. Becoming an independent publisher is astonishingly easy. But, there are two very different pathways to follow. Technically, one pathway is not necessarily that of an independent publisher although you would be acting in that capacity. The second pathway requires you to establish yourself as an independent publisher. And, it’s not that hard!

First, I set up an LLC many years ago. This is not that expensive and it gives you protection from lawsuits. Your LLC can be sued but your personal assets cannot be touched, in theory. I recommend this first step to protect yourself. You can find out how to do this at multiple sites on the internet.

Second, I had to decided which one of those two directions to take. You can publish directly through Amazon and their publishing program. You can read all about it on Amazon. It is relatively simple process once you understand it. The downside is your book will be ebook format only unless you choose to pay extra for producing print copies.

The other format is Ingramspark ( Ingram is the largest book distributor in the world. Setting yourself up as an independent publisher with this entity is simple. Just go to their site and watch their tutorial. It costs nothing to set yourself up. The cost comes when uploading a book. Also, you can make your books returnable, which means a book store can order your print books and if they don’t sell, return them for their cost. As the publisher, you are given the choice of having those books then shipped to you at your cost or destroyed (at a cost). Either way, returnable books can be placed in brick and mortar stores if they choose. These stores will NEVER take a POD, strictly, print on demand, book that becomes THEIRS once it is printed. The Ingramspark model is still POD, but the books can be returned. No warehouse fees involved!

CAVEAT: ISBN numbers. They are essential for your books. Amazon will offer to supply you with an ISBN for a cost. Ingramspark will ask you to get these numbers before uploading a book for distribution. Go to to purchase ISBN numbers (I recommend in bulk as you will need a separate ISBN for your ebook and your print book).

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Getting Published: Traditional Publisher

Maybe I was pretty harsh on self publishing companies. Maybe you’ve had a good experience and if so, write about it on the internet. Go to their website and give them a positive review. I’m sure there has to be some good companies out there. And, there are many such entities that promise to help you with all of the in-between steps and not necessarily take you for a hug sum of money. Again, do your research and read unbiased reviews of any company before you use it.

Now, what about:


Well, has this industry changed, or what?

When digital books took the world by storm, most publishing companies were caught with their  printing presses down. I know. I was there in the midst of it trying to get published.

In 2012 I attended the International Christian Retail Show which featured all the upcoming books, music, and merchandise for Christian book stores and gift shops. Everyone was in a turmoil over the effect of Kindle and Apple Books (and the Nook) on publishing. Barnes and Nobles “brick and mortar” stores had closed nationwide in record numbers. And, by 2019 all Lifeway stores would close. The publishing world was turned upside down.

I recall one statistic quoted at the meeting that 75% of all book sales were now digital. That was in 2012! How was a brick and mortar book store to stay open?

Once upon a time, the process of getting published by a traditional publisher went something like this:

A new author has an idea for a book.

Author researches how to put together a really effective book proposal.

Author researches which publishers will consider new authors (Writer’s Digest Marketing Guide and Christian Writer’s Marketing Guide).

Author chooses ten publishers to send book proposals.

Author waits.

Author waits some more.

Rejection letters trickle in.

Author either persists and keeps trying or author goes back to day job which they should never abandon anyway!


Author has an agent.

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Jesus Christ, a person of interest

What do you want most for Christmas? I don’t mean a tangible thing you can hold in your hands. I mean, what do you really want deep down inside?





Freedom from bondage?


We’re drawing near to the end of 2021. This was supposed to be the good year; the year after the terrible 2020. It wasn’t the good year. It was worse in many ways. COVID is still with us and still rampaging across the world with new variants. Political unrest continues throughout the world. No peace at home. Racial tensions continue. Our leaders continue to show just how frail and human we really are. There are no superheroes in the real world to save us from the Thanos’s of the universe.

So why is it that Christmas seems to bring so much hope? What is it about Christmas that almost redeems the rest of this year?

We can try our best to focus on magical beings like Santa and his reindeers. We can romanticize our relationships on the Hallmark channel. We can lift our glasses filled with the beverages of forgetfulness and retreat for a moment from reality. We can drown ourselves in consumerism and the latest physical thing. We can even try our best to be a part of some kind of family. But there is something transcendent and metaphysical about this season.

In ancient Europe, the evergreen tree was viewed as a source of this magical feeling of life, persistence, hope. During the harsh winters, the evergreen tree branches with their green leaves stood out against the cold, harsh white wash of winter. Bringing them into the house brought a sense of hope that spring would come and this cold, deadly embrace of icy winter would one day come to an end. And, hopefully the present day struggles would also come to an end.

The evergreen tree stood for a stubbornness against the reality of cold, ending death. It was no wonder that the tradition of the evergreen wreath and branches would one day become the Christmas tree. A tree. A thing of wood and leaves and sap whose roots reached deep into the earth for sustenance and whose leaves and limbs were designed to be narrow and hard to withstand the frozen grip of winter. It wasn’t long until that tree became a reminder of another “tree” on which a very famous man was crucified and the legacy of his life to all mankind.

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The Gifts

This is the second chapter of my book, “Our Darkness, His Light: Ordinary People in the Extraordinary Story of Christ.” Josiah is a character who “bookends” the story that starts at the manger and ends at the empty tomb.

In my fictional account of the nativity, Josiah is the owner of the manger where Jesus was born. He now lives with his own son in Bethlehem and Joseph and Mary have moved into a house down the street.


After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” 

Matthew 2:1-2 (NIV) 

“Where are you going?” Rachel asked.

I shrugged into my outer cloak and grabbed the walking stick. “I promised Joseph I would help him finish something in his workshop.” I couldn’t tell her it was a chair I was making especially for her. 

My son, Joseph, burbled and cooed in his mother’s arms. “But, it’s after sunset.” 

“Yes, and much cooler. Joseph’s workshop on his roof will be much more tolerable now.” I kissed my son’s forehead. His dark, unruly hair smelled of scented oil. “You know, it’s been two years.” I tousled Joseph’s hair and he grabbed my finger with his strong grip. 

“Since the birth of Yeshua. Yes, I remember, Josiah. Also, that was the night we had our, uh, disagreement.” 

I reached past Joseph and patted Rachel’s stomach. “And, this child will be our daughter, Rachel. Yahweh has told me as much.” 

Rachel’s smile was brighter than the star I had seen that night. “Well, I will be putting our Joseph down for the night so be careful on your journey to Joseph’s house.” She leaned forward and kissed me on the cheek.

I stepped out of our house into the cool night air. The sky was clear and filled with blazing stars. One star in particular seemed to lie low on the horizon. For two years now, the star had filled the night sky visible even with a full moon! Now, it seemed brighter and closer than ever! As I turned toward Joseph’s house, I noticed the star seemed to hover over the street where he lived! How was this possible? Surely just an illusion. 

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How Do I Get Published Part 3


My ninth grade English teacher, Mrs. Griswold, had a six week creative writing period at the end of my freshman year in high school. I had never heard of such a thing even though I had been writing since age 11. At the top of the first page of every assignment I wrote she would place in red ink: “Publish! Publish!” I fell in love with writing and I wanted to become a published author.

In today’s part 3, which will be segmented into several sections, I begin discussing where to go with your finished manuscript if you want to get published.


You have written your manuscript. You have honed your writing skills. You have edited it to the best polished version you can imagine. Now what? How do you get that bad boy into print?

I have had the good fortune and also, misfortune of publishing every which way imaginable. I have published books through traditional publishers (Meriwether Publishing/Contemporary Drama, Broadman & Holman, Lifeway, Kregel, B&H Publishing, and Strang Communications/Realms Imprint). I have paid a “self publisher” to publish my books (Xlibris, iUniverse, BookPros, and Westbow Press). I have paid a low end publishing entity to merely print out a book for promotional purposes (Xlibris). And I have formed my own independent publishing entities.

I have done it all and I can tell you there are lots of bear traps along the way. Let’s start with the easiest pathway — the self-publishing company.

SELF PUBLISHING COMPANY is one of many sites to check out the best and worst self publishing companies. What I am about to say about these entities is scathing. But, there are a very few companies you can trust and I would do a lot of research on the internet and get unbiased reviews of the company you may choose before proceeding. Note that there are many entities that help you get published but YOU do the work and YOU pay for each level of service. These reliable companies can be found in the information of But, I will tell you they are few and far between in my experience.

Having said all that:

Author Beware! In fact, do a search for “author beware” or “writer beware” before going with a self-publishing company that promises to do everything for you.

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How Do I Get Published? Part 2

So some of the readers of this blog took my opening words of the previous blog too much to heart. As I said in that entry, those comments were made to me by a well known publishing editor. They were not aimed at any of my friends. So far, those who have spoken to me about their books are receptive to my suggestions. Jack, you are a good friend and your story was compelling and that is WHY you must write it down as you intend to do.

Let’s face it, when we are striving for recognition for our story (or ourselves) we can sometimes be too full of ourselves! I know this is true of me. I often regale my fellow physicians with my personal stories at the lunch time doctor’s cafeteria. But, I have learned to know when to shut up. It is a very important and useful tool to know when it is time to stop before you go too far. Many, many times less is more!

I go back to my closing statements from last entry. If you want to be published then you have to focus on that one book you are most passionate about and NOTHING else! It is the ONLY way you will finish the task. I wasted twenty years writing various versions of various novels before I learned this lesson. I did not complete my first novel until I was in my forties.

Get on with it! Write it all down and finish it!

Now, to the next hardest task:


Imagine if you will that you want a child. You have dreamed of having your own son or daughter. In your mind, you see yourself playing with that child, watching the child grow, beaming with pride when they graduate and being very happy when they get married and have grandchildren. Such a proud parent!

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How Do I Get Published, Part 1

This is for Jack, who asked me the same question I have been asked many, many times. And, as you will read, I am “guilty” of asking that same question. Nothing wrong with the question. So, here are some of MY answers. Hope this helps.



“I want to write a book. How do I get it published?”

Response from an acquisition editor:

“I have lost track how many times I am asked this question on a weekly basis. It is very difficult for me to keep my eyes from glazing over during the ensuing conversation, mostly one sided while the person tries to tell me why they want to write a book, usually about their life, and then proceeds to tell me about their life.

Let me be honest. It’s not that I’m not interested in the other person. I am a people person and I love to hear life stories. It’s just the context of the conversation in a setting of a desire to write a book. Let me be clear. If you want to write a book, then WRITE! Save the storytelling for the book! I’m not trying to be nasty, it’s just we only have so much time in this world and some of those hour long monologues represent an hour of my life I will never get back.”

That sounds pretty arrogant, doesn’t it? These thoughts come not necessarily from me, but from the person I asked that question to. He was a chief acquisition editor for a major publisher and I did indeed make his eyes glaze over. Fortunately, I had enough self awareness to realize what I was doing to this poor man. But, in my defense, it was his day job!

Now, I get that question a lot. I try my best to be patient and not give in to the glazing of the eyes. Most of the time, I succeed but I have learned a great deal about the best way to answer that set of questions. So, to save myself some time and effort, I have written down some thoughts for those who would like to write a book and get published.

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